I’ve been waiting for over a year to say this since I first saw it at the LA Asian Film Festival last May:
The Tiger Hunter is one of the most delightful comedies I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s also one of the best films about the Asian immigrant experience, one that doesn’t mock or ridicule the immigrants but rather honors them for the sacrifices they made to achieve the American dream. These are some mighty high praises and now expectations but I’ll go into detail why this charming indie film starring Danny Pudi and Karen David deserves your attention after a brief synopsis of what this film is all about:
Set in the 1970s, The Tiger Hunter is the story of Sami Malik, a young Indian man who travels to America to become an engineer in order to impress his childhood crush and live up to the legacy of his father — a legendary tiger hunter — back home. When Sami’s job falls through, he takes a low-end job and joins with a gang of oddball friends in hopes of convincing his childhood sweetheart that he’s far more successful than he truly is… or perhaps ever could be.
A timely and topical comedy that captures a young immigrant’s pursuit for success, love and the American dream with humor and heart, The Tiger Hunter is a charming comedy bolstered by vibrant storytelling and an endearing comic spirit.
For starters, it is a sheer joy to see Danny Pudi take the center stage as a romantic leading man and similar to another film about a South Asian with Kumail Nunjani in The Big Sick, it shows the untapped range these South Asian comedic actors can show when given the chance to truly shine. And shine Pudi does as he effortlessly anchors the film with his unwavering positive charm and earnestness.
But the main lead can’t hold the film all by himself and it is here the surrounding cast does a tremendous job in holding their own weight from Rizwan Manji as the bumbling yet loveable Babu, Jon Heder as Alex Womack, a slacker yet supportive best friend, and Karen David as the absolutely radiant Ruby, who takes command of the scenes that she is present in. Special note must be given that it is refreshing to see the “best friend role” be not a person of color but be played by the white person instead and for a romantic film that has an Asian man/woman as the lead, the romantic interest is NOT a white individual.
The set design, costumes, and cinematography all deserve a mention as they are done so well that they might as well be characters for this film. Each three aspects are so fully realized in such a vibrant manner that one can describe this film as Lena Khan’s homage to Wes Anderson films while still making her own unique stamp on it. As such, serious kudos to the cinematographer Patrice Lucien Cochet, production designer Michael Fitzgerald, and costume designer Justine Seymour.
Humor is abundant throughout the film and the jokes never feel forced as it comes organically. There was rarely a groan or dud moment that I experienced as the most important aspect this film has in spades is that it has heart. A beating, compassionate heart that reverberates throughout the film from the opening scene to the credits.
Though I can nitpick a few aspects about it such as the opening being a tad rough in execution and Jon Heder’s character being a bit too conveniently helpful in certain crucial moments (hello magical cracker), these are very minor things that did not get in the way of my enjoyment of this film. It is, like the synopsis said earlier, a film that is rather timely as the topic of immigration has become a battlefield of sorts for many here in America.
The Tiger Hunter achieves a rare balance of being a film that is both so focused about the lives of South Asian immigrants and at the same time, a film that has such heartfelt and hilarious writing accessible to all types of folks. It is a film that portrays a side of humanity so uncommonly seen in the Hollywood landscape and done so well because it lets its characters breathe with ease, without a concern in the world that it needs to prove itself against stereotypes holding it back or any demand to fulfill a thesis statement about its need to exist in the first place are you still reading this I don’t even know what I’m writing (something about why most Asian American films are bad??) because HOW CAN I NOT THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD I CRY WITH HAPPINESS EVERY TIME.
If you get a chance to watch this film this weekend (and I truly hope you do), do give them a shoutout at their Twitter handle @TigerHunterFilm as well as follow them on their Facebook page and holler at them there too.
To conclude this review, my fellow writer Josephine Chang and I held a podcast interview with the director Lena Khan herself, which you can check out below. Precaution: We may come off as crazy fangirl/boy squirrels in this as you can easily tell we are very excited about our guest: